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Play Unsafe» Forums » Reviews

Subject: Play Unsafe - A Review rss

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Dave Bernazzani (@rpggeek)
United States
Plainville
Massachusetts
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I just got through my second reading of Graham Walmsley's Play Unsafe. It was my my second reading in just two days. This should tell you two things - that the book is short and that the book is a good read. I'll admit to feeling a bit underwhelmed when it arrived and weighed in at a scant 74 pages - none of which were particularly dense. But one does not, fortunately, judge a book by its page count.

Play Unsafe is a book about letting go in your gaming. It's about taking chances. It's about not planning every little detail and going with the flow. It's about working together and to build up - not tear down. The book is fairly Game Master centric but would be a solid read for players as well who are looking to play characters beyond the ordinary - often by being ordinary. As the book hints: it's all very zen-like.

Play Unsafe is broken down into 5 roughly equal parts as follows:

Play
This section gives Game Masters and Players alike advice on "letting go". Not trying to script out everything and not working to a specific plan. This is especially important for Game Masters who have the ability (by virtue of their powerful status within the game) to railroad the players to force them back onto their path. It talks about being less clever and more ordinary - for when the players and GM do the ordinary (i.e. what is expected of them given their character roles), it often turns out extraordinary.

Build
Here the book talks about building. The Game Master builds upon ideas presented by the players. The players build upon ideas of other players and the GM. Rather than have a "shoot down" mentality (in an attempt to keep to your plan), go in the direction the group is pulling. If they want to explore an area you hadn't detailed or execute a plan that you hadn't accounted for - let them. The players will fill in most of the details as you guide them and they will feel like they have had a hand in creating both the story and the outcome.

Status
A fairly Player-centric section (though useful for Game Masters running NPCs) that focuses on playing your character. It details both high-status and low-status characters - your typical "King" and your typical "Pauper". It also includes ways to take your character from a low status to a high status and, often more importantly, from a high status to a low. These status shifts can provide drama and interesting stories for the entire group.

Tell Stories
A fairly Game Master-centric section that talks about setting up routines and then breaking them to introduce drama. It also details some tricks to tie your story together such as to "reincorporate" where something is introduced early but has a use/reason later. These sorts of things tend to really bind your story and keep the players thinking "I wonder what this will be used for?!".

Work Together
The final section is all about letting go. It's about feeling comfortable with your character and your fellow players. It's about remembering that your character and you are not the same - that it's okay to take chances, to do things you wouldn't dream of in real life and not be judged by the other players at the table. Here we rediscover that games are supposed to be fun - both for you and for the other players at the table. Work on making it fun for others - they will reciprocate and its at those times the "magic" of the Role-play experience happens.

When I was done with the book, I felt like I wanted more. But I'm not sure there was much more to say. It felt like a brief but meaningful visit from another Game Master who is offering sage advice. I'll be lending this book to the other GMs in my local group - and I think they will get some real value out of it as I have.

For those skipping to the end of the review: Highly Recommend for GMs. Recommended for Players.
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Lowell Francis
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I enjoyed reading it, but shared your reaction. I was glad I picked it up as a pdf. Layout issues aside, there's a lot of good material there and it is interesting to see Improv theory/practice applied so directly to playing and planning. I do a good deal of sketch planning for games, more to have details and ideas ready, but he's got a good deal of insight on how to spin things well at the table and make sure you're inclusive of others' ideas-- as player or GM. Definitely worth picking up for those ideas.
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Richard
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Marousi
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I share the same feelings with both of you. I also think PDF is the way to go!
I have the book Impro, that the wtiter suggests, on my wishlist for a while now. Maybe it's time to get it.
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Keenan Scott
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I feel the same way about this book. However, I have to say that print is the way to go with it. PDF is great, but I don't find reading off a screen to be a relaxing experience like curling up with a book is. The print book is more likely to make me pick it up at random and re-read it, which I think is necessary for the ideas to really sink in over the long term. A nice slim volume handed to a friend in your group is also more likely to get read than saying, "hey man there is this PDF you should pick up it is great."
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Frank Eisenhauer
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That's when an E-Book reader comes in handy.
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Richard
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I think they are quite expensive (but that never stopped me... shake ).

They don't fully support PDF format from what I read.
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Frank Eisenhauer
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I use a Sony PRS 505 that supports PDF. While I still prefer a printed book over the electronic edition, the reader comes in handy for all kind of texts like the one discussed. I eagerly await what Apple is going to come up with in the future.
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Keenan Scott
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eisenphx wrote:
That's when an E-Book reader comes in handy.


Not really. A file hidden away on a bit of silicon in an electronic device doesn't say "pick me up and re-read me" like a book lying around does. When I said, "The print book is more likely to make me pick it up at random and re-read it", I wasn't... I dunno... lying about what I'm likely to do.

Handing someone a thin book is also more likely to get them to read it, due to all sorts of social-interaction things and due to the content-cues available from a physical object that a PDF lacks.

That said, I do love e-book readers and I'm looking forward to them getting ubiquitous, but they're not going to become ubiquitous by pretending there's no difference between a PDF + e-reader and a physical book.
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Lowell Francis
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BTW I tracked down and ordered a copy of the Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre book by Keith Johnstone which Walmsley mentions as a major source in his book. That's a really good read-- Play Unsafe does a nice job of distilling the ideas down and applying them to the rpg context. The original source has a lot more examples in other contexts and some great examples. I was pleased to have followed that chain back.
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